Makapuu Lighthouse overlooks the annual whale migration in Hawaii.

I’d been hearing many reports of whale spotting over the last two months, off Oahu, and the other islands. But I hadn’t seen any myself (but then I hadn’t spent any time actually looking for them). Last week on a clearer day than we’d had in a while, I headed through Waimanalo, up towards Sea Life Park, go around the bend and you’ll find Makapu’u. The lighthouse on the ocean cliff was built the turn of the century and has a working light. There is ample parking except for the busiest days – but do beware, it’s notorious for break ins – so take full precautions. This 40 minute, 2 mile walk up a paved path to the lighthouse gets you to a known whale watching overlook part way up. That was my first stop.

Looking out over the stretch of water, you can see sometimes see Molokai and Maui on the far horizon. Sitting there for 30 minutes, several pods of whales slowly swam by, too offshore to see in detail, but still fun to see as they flipped tails and fins. At this point, if you are a hardy hiker you can take a side trek off the main path and head down the cliff to the rock outcrop down on the water. It’s pretty far down there. I imagine about 1000 +feet. I’ve done this a few times, and can say it’s a challenge for me, but with a walking stick and a lot of care, I made it down the switchback path, picking my way through the rocks and boulders. There is no clear cut path, but someone has put markers on some rocks that can be followed. Once you reach the bottom, it’s great. There are several hollowed out swimming holes’ that are full of clear water and ready to swim in. The ocean there is pretty wild, with crashing waves and a small blow hole that pushes water up tens of feet on a regular basis.

But if you stay on the paved path and head towards the overlook by the Makapu’u Lighthouse, it’s a beautiful view of the beaches and bays going up the east side of Oahu with Rabbit Island and the Mokes off Kailua beach in view. Staying up on the overlook a while, I saw several more pods of whales go by and was most excited by a group of 5 who detoured around Rabbit Island, coming in much closer to the overlook. With binoculars I could see them up close… close enough to see their spots and barnacles and their white tipped pectoral fins. It was the closest I’ve seen a whale since moving here. And now I can’t wait for a boat ride to go out to see them close up! Heading back down the path was a very easy walk, although it had gotten hot and sunny by then. I’d suggest early morning, especially in the summer. The path has little shade, but there are shady areas under some scrub trees off to the side. There are no facilities and no benches. Rocks have to do for resting. Take the hike, especially if you are here on your Hawaii vacation during whale season (Dec – April), or take it anyway, just for the view. It’s a local favorite too.

Take a hike with me on Oahu’s east side


  1. The whales are so amazing to see, thanks for letting us know about this perfect place to see them!  Beautiful pictures – what a nice hike!

  2. I love that side of Oahu, Makapuu and Sandys are beautiful and now I know where to whale watch, Thanks Katherine ! 

  3. the whales are everywhere they are such beautiful creatures  we took a catamaran yesterday and they were with us tooo

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